Residents vent over vote to fence off Raglan airfield – May 19th Meeting

More than 70 people turned out to the Wednesday, May 19 evening meeting in the town hall supper room, most of them clearly unhappy that a recent council meeting in Ngāruawāhia had overridden the Raglan Community Board’s request for time to come up with a compromise on the issue.

The council is understood to have blindsided some community board members last month with plans to complete a 1.2 metre-high fence around the whole of the airfield, remove the two public access gates and create a separate walkway from near the camp entrance to the beach flanking the northern side of the runway.  

Council staff came up with the plans after receiving “notification from the Civil Aviation Authority directing aerodrome operators to review their safety procedures and processes”.

However, it emerged at last week’s town hall meeting that this was primarily a safety message targeted at pilots.  

Meanwhile a subsequent review and audit of Raglan airfield – undertaken by an aviation consultant engaged by the council – does not appear to have been released, and nor it seems has any information on the number of incidents or near misses locally.

Several speakers at the public meeting doubted that any catalogue of incidents existed, or that there was any evidence locals were acting irresponsibly.

There were no formal resolutions at the meeting – convened by former Raglan Community Board member Alan Vink – but a straw poll made clear the wishes of the majority. 

“We are asking that no [continuous] fence is built, and that signage is clearer,” a meeting summary read. 

“That said, we don’t believe it is necessary to prohibit people walking across the airfield and landing strip,” it added. “We note the CAA do not require this either.”

The summary confirmed the council would also be asked to look into some kind of warning system or device to “ramp up” airfield safety. Resident Matt Stockton – in a separate  account of the meeting which he posted on Facebook – noted warning systems were commercially available and used at other New Zealand airfields. 

Mention was made at the meeting of various possible warning systems including one where pilots could set off airfield lights from their cellphones, or a horn as happened at Pauanui on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Raglan Community Board chair Gabrielle Parson revealed at the town hall meeting that the board had been working with council staff recently on a compromise scenario at the airfield.

However, according to Matt Stockton, that would still mean the airfield open space was inaccessible to the community.

Other discussion points at the town hall meeting ranged from whether the Safety at Work Act was the right legislation for a recreational airfield to whether any signage should be a council or CAA responsibility.  

Council’s general manager service delivery, Roger MacCulloch, insisted he and council’s zero harm team were placed in an “untenable position” with current safety risks at the airfield, though conceded council should have talked to the community board earlier than it did.

Two Gordonton microlight pilots who came along to the meeting did feel the Raglan community had “got lethargic” in recent years over airfield safety, and cited an instance where a group of people sat down and refused to move off the runway.

Alan Vink noted in his summary that there were longer-term issues over the ownership of the land in question and the airfield’s location.

UPDATE June 3: Review promised over airfield access issue

Raglan residents have been promised that the Waikato District Council will carry out an “independent review” before any of its controversial major safety work is done at the town’s airfield.

The assurance – which came in a Facebook post by the Raglan Community Board – said the review would take into consideration suggestions put forward by the board and community members over the last few weeks.

This was “to ensure that we are well informed and that the most balanced actions are taken”.

The post added that meantime revised signage was being arranged, along with marking on the grass, to highlight the operational or runway zone.

News of the review was cautiously welcomed last week by Alan Vink, the organiser of an earlier packed public meeting at the Town Hall supper room which protested council plans to fence off the airfield to residents.

“We have made a good gain, I think,” he said, describing the planned review as “an appropriate response given sentiments shared at the Town Hall meeting”.

But he questioned how independent the council could be on the matter, how the review would be undertaken and by whom.

He also noted that “many of us” in the community were still awaiting details of the so-called incident reports and risk assessment that the council had done over a year ago, and which led staff to recommend to the infrastructure committee the fencing off of the airfield.

The twin red lines painted in the grass on the perimeter of the airfield – which in parts look more like a sobriety test for drivers than a delineation of the operational zone – aren’t the only evidence of recent council activity around the runway.  Contractors have also kerbed and channelled a short section of Marine Parade, effectively denying dog walkers a well-used parking spot bordering the airfield.

Correction: Please note that in Chronicle print issue number 729 relating to the Airfield story it was stated that: “A Ngati Māhanga representative set out at the meeting the conditions attached to the gifting of the land in 1940 but did not directly specify what she believed should happen now.”

This statement is incorrect. 

At the meeting Ngati Māhanga provided a historical context to the gifting (tuku whenua) of Papahua in 1923 and the terms of the gift/tuku agreed to by Crown representatives and Māhanga representatives at that time. The Papahua area in the agreement included the Camp ground, the Domain reserve and the aerodrome area. Waikato District Council and Ngāti Māhanga work together to ensure that the 1923 terms of agreement are adhered to.

The Chronicle would like to apologise for this error and any inconvenience caused.